Simulation games are in a genre I don’t give much attention. Titles like The Sims lets you live out a calculated, fantasy life. Others like Cities: Skylines allows you to create a metropolis as you see fit. Control and creativity reign supreme in these games, with very few “Goals” other than to do what the game lets you do and to have a good time doing it.
Animal Crossing is easily the game series I have given the most attention to in this genre. I played the original on the Gamecube and thought it was pretty cool, but admittedly I was most drawn to the inclusion on emulated NES games. Wild World on the DS made the game better by bringing it to a mobile platform where it could really thrive. I skipped out on City Folk on Wii, but loved New Leaf on the 3DS. Something I an saw with certainty is each subsequent game in the series made vast improvements over the previous. Also, let’s just not mention the Wii U’s amiibo Party.
Here we are in May 2020. The newest game, New Horizons, has been out for the Nintendo Switch for a little over two months. It has sold millions of copies, and is being praised as the best in the series. It’s also a great relief for players from the stresses of the world with Coronavirus COVID-19. Undoubtedly a quality game, I am approaching 2 months with it and don’t think it will be out of rotation anytime soon.
Coming off of New Leaf (which came out in 2012, oh my god where did that time go), the Animal Crossing series had nothing left to prove. The fanbase was already thriving, the games were all of high quality, and as mentioned before each new game was better than the last. The Switch is an excellent home for New Horizons, and the improvements to the visuals, gameplay additions, and retaining the series’ trademark charm propel this one to the top of the series best games.
New Horizons very quickly shows you what it is offering: an island playground you can manage and create as you see fit. Villagers move in and out, buildings expand, Tom Nook has a lot of connections, and the humor overflows. Since there is no real goal in the game, you can play how you see fit. If you just want to decorate your house and get cute new outfits, you can do so. If you’d rather make your island looks as much like Hell as possible (which a friend of mine is totally trying to do), believe it or not, you can do that too.
If you’ve played a previous Animal Crossing game, more specifically if you’ve played New Leaf on the 3DS, you know exactly what to expect from this game. New Horizons just makes most things feel fresh. Villagers have new outfits and sayings, there’s new and returning furniture, outfits are just as cute as ever, etc. Familiar non-Villager faces like Tom Nook, K.K. Slider, and Isabelle return as well. The sheer amount of stuff you can do is tremendous: decorate your house, play dress-up, visit your villagers, make DIY projects, renovate your entire island, get the highest rated island, visit friends’ islands, collect dozens of bugs, fossils, and fish for your museum, and the list goes on.
The biggest gripe I have echo what many are complaining about, namely quality of life issues that seem like oversights. These aren’t game breaking, but annoying. Not being able to purchase more than one shirt at a time from Able Sisters shop, for example. Or being able to craft items with materials from your storage while in your house. Crafting is such an important new feature, but the game makes it needlessly challenging to do it efficiently. There are more of these small issues that mar an otherwise flawless game.
A personal problem I find myself in is being left without much motivation to do anything more. I’ve paid off my entire house, have all the villagers moved in, and have millions of bells in storage. Now I find myself just buying a few new outfits, and occasionally touching up my house. There’s definitely more that can be done, but since the game doesn’t have an actual goal to strive for that otherwise limits progression, there isn’t a lot of necessity to do anything. This freedom (or lack thereof) can be a turnoff to some, as it leaves you without a direction on what to do next. Again, not a problem with the game, but rather with the genre itself.
Regardless, New Horizons is easily the best Animal Crossing game to date. Dozens of my friends are playing, and being a part of an active group enjoying a game for so long has a ton of value. I think that’s representative of gaming as a whole: the value you get from it is all up to you. Animal Crossing: New Horizons gives you a bunch of tools to get the enjoyment out of it you want. A game with a specific direction cannot do that. Without question this sense of freedom is what makes the game such a noteworthy entry into the Switch’s library, and a truly fun game that will gladly devour your free time if you allow it.